Thursday, February 20, 2003
Oak Creek At Chelsea's Chinese Restaurant's opening night under its new owners, the tables were full but the bar was empty. The taps were untouched and the liquor bottles lining the shelves behind the cash register stayed capped.
Andy and Jaila Benjamin imagined there would be problems when they opened the doors for business as the new owners of the Oak Creek dining establishment. But they did not imagine they would be opening without a liquor license.
"Everyone was really good about it," Jaila Benjamin said. "The people of Oak Creek probably never drank so much green tea in their lives."
The couple reopened Chelsea's on Jan. 17 after purchasing it from former owner Dave Epstein for $100,000, plus rent of the building.
Epstein's liquor license expired in August and he did not renew when he decided to close the restaurant and look for a buyer.
Under Colorado law, a licensee has 90 days to file a late renewal application for a $500 fee. But 90 days came and went.
"The former owners of Chelsea's let their license expire, so rather than doing a change of ownership application, they had to start the process anew," Oak Creek Town Clerk Nancy Crawford said. "It takes a little longer."
"There was a miscommunication on a lot of levels," Andy Benjamin said.
Once the Benjamins realized the mistake, they applied for a new license and the town board called a special meeting to push their license through.
"A process that typically takes six to eight weeks happened in three weeks," Andy Benjamin said. Their liquor license arrived on Feb. 6.
"The mayor hand delivered it," Andy Benjamin said.
Because of the confusion, the Benjamins postponed their grand opening from Feb. 1 to next Friday, Feb. 28, coincidentally Andy Benjamin's 30th birthday.
Chelsea's will open at 4 p.m. Feb. 28. Dinner will be served until 8:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended.
After 8 p.m., appetizers and drinks will be available until midnight to the music of local band The Blue Roosters.
The celebration will mark the end of a month and a half of success for the first-time business owners.
When they purchased the restaurant, Epstein gave them an option to defer their loan for the first six months.
"Winter is historically the slowest time for this restaurant," Jaila Benjamin said. "Things have been jamming since we opened. We were able to pay our first loan and rent payment this month."
The couple works full time at their restaurant but kept their part-time jobs in the Ptarmigan Inn's bar and restaurant in Steamboat Springs.
"This experience has been a whirlwind," Jaila Benjamin said. "I compare it to having a baby. You don't sleep because you are always thinking about money and books and employees. We are consumed."
Beyond the addition of a few paintings and Chinese decorations, Chelsea's remains the same under the new ownership.
David Chen, Chelsea's chef of 12 years, is still in the kitchen, serving the same menu at the same prices.
"But people say that the food tastes better," Jaila Benjamin said. "I think David (Chen) likes having owner/operators."
Chelsea's is located at 116 Main St. in Oak Creek. To make reservations for Chelsea's grand opening, call 736-8538. Designated drivers eat free with reservations of four or more.